Review: Super 8
PLOT: In a small Ohio town during the summer of 1979, a group of tweenagers have aspirations of making movies. Their latest zombie opus is in the middle of production until a fateful night when they witness a terrifying train wreck. To make matters worse, something big enough to escape from a locked train cart finds its way into the darkness bringing terror to this small town. The youngsters must face the beast and each other in what is sure to be a summer vacation they will never forget.
Springing from the minds of writer/director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg, Super 8 presents a thrillingly imaginative, terrifying and visually stunning spectacle. Here we are returned to the year 1979 where a group of adolescence is coming of age in a small Ohio town. While that may not sound all that exciting, just imagine JAWS meets E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL or STAND BY ME meets JURASSIC PARK. Or you could even compare it on some level to Stephen King’s IT. While it may have moments that remind you of these earlier features, the truth is that Super 8 still feels original and it is sure to have audiences on the edge of their seats upon its release.
In this richly inspired period piece, the film revolves around tweens Joe Lamb (Joe Courtney) who is helping his best friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) make a low-budget zombie flick. With Charles and Joe, these two young men have recruited a number of other school mates for various production jobs on the set. The other students include Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso and Elle Fanning as fellow horror buffs hoping to make a scary movie. Frankly, the fact that I am writing for JoBlo.com and you are reading it will mostly work in your favor for this cinema loving feature. Honestly, if they had just made a coming of age film about these kids, I would've been hooked.
When the baby faced film lovers go to shoot a scene at a train station, they get a sequence they could’ve never planned. After a pick-up truck drives headlights first into a train, it causes a massive head-on collision that is truly one of the most visually stunning images I’ve seen on film. And in many ways, this devastation is the end, at least when it comes to their innocence. When they realize something pretty dangerous escaped from the confines of the twisted train derailing, something has grown inside them, a kind of fear that they had never known before. As far as the plot goes, I wouldn’t want to give much more than that away.
Super 8 is an extraordinary movie that somehow brings in the sheer excitement that POLTERGEIST (another Spielberg production) brought, along with a sense of wonderment and innocence from an always changing world. There is a clear sense of Spielberg’s style here, yet Abrams is not simply relying on nostalgia and homage, this is a wonderfully familiar tale with a fresh look. Especially exciting are the varied scares that are spread throughout. Abrams smartly avoids giving away too much of the monster too soon, but don’t worry, you’ll get your fill and it is nothing like CLOVERFIELD. The sequence in the gas station – once again, it is familiar yet gripping – is incredibly well shot especially how they hide the beast from audience view. Much like Jaws, where we were only given glimpses of the shark, Super 8 ratchets up the tension by keeping us in the dark until the end.
It is refreshing to see this cast ensemble explored as deeply as they are here. Each one of the players has a story and nearly every single one is significant. However, the one complaint is how little history is given to the monster. The script at times feels like a mix between the two films that Super 8 was originally supposed to be, a coming of age saga and a monster flick. Yet with a handful of subtle references to the beast, it is pretty clear what the monster wants, but there was surely more of a story to tell. The one thing that you can gather about this movie creature is that it is plenty pissed off. So you could easily question some of the how and why, especially towards the climax. And with all those questions, some of the logic behind the script and this particular sub-plot doesn't make sense. However, a giant monster flinging people to their demise as it shakes the earth beneath its crushing weight is already a bit far fetched, it sure is scary though.
Super 8 is a thrilling return to movie magic of old, filled with wonder, horror and chills. With a majestic score courtesy of Michael Giacchino and an unmistakably sincere look at the love of film, there is a compelling sort of thrill in experiencing it with the young and impressionable characters featured. In this modern day monster flick, there is quite a bit of nostalgia that brings back memories of when Amblin (Spielberg’s production company) was new. With a few script issues involving the monster and his dealings and a definite need for suspension of disbelief, Super 8 is a fun-filled tribute to creature features, mayhem and finding your way in the world.